Are you at high risk for heart disease? The results of a lab
test called a lipid profile are one factor that goes into determining heart
disease risk. It's a simple test that provides useful information and one that
doctors recommend for all adults, regardless of their risk for heart disease.
A lipid profile is a group of blood tests that measures the
quantity of different lipids or fats in the bloodstream. Increased levels of
some lipids are linked with a higher risk for coronary heart disease -- the
most common cause of death in the U.S. Doctors can use the results of a lipid
profile along with other information such as family history, blood pressure and
lifestyle habits to estimate a person's risk for developing heart disease. If
the results of a lipid profile are abnormal, they can suggest lifestyle changes
or prescribe medications to bring them into a more normal range.
What Does a Lipid Profile Measure?
A lipid profile typically measures four kinds of lipids --
total cholesterol, low density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL), high density
lipoprotein (HDL) and triglycerides. Some profiles also include a ratio of LDL
to HDL and total cholesterol to HDL ratio. These ratios provide additional
information about heart disease risk.
Most people are aware of how high their total cholesterol
is, but fewer know their LDL, HDL and triglyceride levels. LDL is the bad form
of cholesterol that sticks to arteries and increases the risk of heart disease,
while HDL is a good form of lipid since higher levels are linked with a lower
risk for heart disease and heart attack. Elevated triglyceride levels are
associated with a higher risk for heart disease and stroke, but high levels may
be seen in some medical conditions including diabetes, an underactive thyroid
gland, pancreatitis and liver disease. Triglyceride levels also increase in
some people who eat a high carbohydrate diet.
Prior to a lipid profile, you'll usually be asked to fast
for at least 12 hours, although it's okay to drink water. On the day of the
test, a technician draws a tube of blood from a vein and sends it to the lab
for testing. The lab runs the appropriate tests and gives the results to your
doctor. It's a simple procedure that requires one needle stick.
Fasting is important before a lipid profile since the
triglyceride reading may not be accurate if you've recently eaten a meal,
although some experts now think that non-fasting lipid profiles could be more
useful for determining heart disease risk than fasting ones.
From the results of a lipid profile, doctors can estimate
your risk for heart disease, although other factors such as lifestyle, age,
blood pressure and family history enter into the equation. If your lipid levels
are abnormal and your doctor recommends therapy, a lipid panel may be repeated
at intervals to see if the therapy is working.